I wore a T-Shirt demanding Inclusivity at a Tech Conference and this is what happened
I have previously written that the SoCraTes conference in Soltau, Germany is my absolute favorite (besides CodeFreeze and CodeBreeze which I help to organize obviously), and I was especially amazed about the progress in terms of diversity that took place last year. I was confident that this year would be even better because at SoCraTes we manage to bring a critical mass of mindful humans together that actively push for inclusivity and safety at tech conferences. This mindset permeates permeates every thing that happens at the conference which enables newcomers to quickly open up and contribute with their entire self.
Nevertheless I felt the urge to make a statement.
I had visited two open-space conferences this year who are part of the ever growing community of Software Crafters around the world. And at these events diversity was lacking, which was due to their geographical situation. However, living in Norway, I totally get that it is sometimes impossible to achieve diversity amongst event attendee if the structure of the industry itself is absolutely dominated by men.
The issue then arises is when attendees use English as the common language and address the entire room as Guys.
I am absolutely aware that for many it's not a conscious decision, and they did not intend to address everyone as men, but are using guys in a gender-neutral form.
However many are painfully aware of the literal translation because they are non-native speakers and did not grow up with Hey guys! being used as an idiom and not as a way to selectively address the male members of a group.
After all Guys is not gender neutral:
Not convinced? Please read this extensive post about the topic.
Calling everyone a Guy 🤵 is one of these microaggressions that keep reminding some members of our community that they are not recognized. 🤦♀️
Now, changing behaviour is hard. And especially at events I find it impolite to interrupt someone (especially in public) if they use Guys. They most likely are not aware how it makes others feel and there is a high chance that it puts them in a spotlight which in most times will make them turn into aggressive-defensive mode rather than considering their behaviour.
This holds true for online communities as well. It is much more helpful to reach out to a person in a private chat and ask them to consider their wording then pointing it out in the public thread. There they even have the chance to edit their postings.
This obviously is not possible at events.
So I made this t-shirt:
You can download the layout files here, so you can print your own version yourself (I printed this shirt at Spreadshirt for €33,98).
Wearing a t-shirt like this at an event has some interesting aspects to it:
- I wore it the entire day, so I could reach many attendees with this message, without sounding like a broken record.
- It is specific in it's message, but does it in a way that addresses everyone at the event, which means it will nudge people to think about their behaviour but in a way that does not single out individuals
- The t-shirt got recognized and mentioned during the open-space, so others were building, and extending on it.
I did not witness the use of Guys to address a group, but I would address this to the lovely group of people that come to SoCraTes every year. Or maybe the t-shirt worked, who knows?
It is important to also recognize that it was I who wore the t-shirt and what this means for the message.
First, I felt safe to be able to wear a T-Shirt at my favorite conference which clearly demanded something specifically from its attendees. Newcomers and members of underrepresented groups often do not feel safe enough to express messages like this. As a community it is the job of the overrepresented to recognize issues and advocate for the change.
Second, being recognized by Softwarecraftmen as one of their own makes the recipient of the message being more likely to consider it. Change works best peer-to-peer, if the recipient of a message can identify with the messenger they are more likely to consider it.
We can change our industry only if we as those who have benefited for years from its homogeneity put effort into it—and we have the luxury of being listened to by those that need to change.